Sunday, December 1, 2019

Watching films: "Already getting lost, forever, in the calm night..."

Movies are ephemeral, too.

The Library of Congress claims 75% of the films from the silent era are gone forever.

According to Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation, half of all American films made before 1950 and more than 90% of movies made before 1929 are also gone.

A fire at Universal Studios in 2008 destroyed 40,000 to 50,000 archived digital video and film copies.

VHS tapes begin to have significant data loss after about 25 years. Manufacturers of Blu-ray discs say they might last for 150 years. A long time, certainly, but not nearly forever.

Will Earthlings in the year 2500 be able to watch performances by Ingrid Bergman, Bruce Lee and Tom Hanks? Movies directed by Scorsese and Spike Lee? Star Wars? Marvel films? In those aforementioned cases, the best guess might be "probably," because they're among the most famous of our cinema stars and creations. But it's possible that, while some of those famous works might still exist, 99% of everything else will be gone within a few centuries. Perhaps it's even likely that will be the case. Perhaps it's likely that they won't even realize what is lost.

Indeed, everything's ephemeral. Even the couple of million years that Mount Rushmore will endure are just a blink of an eye compared to the age of the universe. But here in 2019, we have the unprecedented luxury of being able to enjoy history's great works — art, architecture, literature, music and, yes, film. Movies go back about 130 years, and there are historical films of paramount importance from its first three decades, such as 1903's The Great Train Robbery. But it's arguably only been about 100 years since "cinema as art" existed. (There's plenty of debate and subjectivity over what qualifies as an influential artistic film; in my view, 1920's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and 1925's Battleship Potemkin were among the early important ones.)

It's important for us to experience works of art, to witness the vast expanse of what can spring from the human mind and heart. That's why plays and novels from centuries ago are still in print. It's why we have myriad museums showcasing everything from Van Gogh to Vivian Maier to video games; and symphony orchestras that perform works by long-dead composers. It's why the secret removal and protection of artwork from the Louvre in Paris during World War II mattered. Our great art has immense value to human civilization.

All of this is my longwinded way of saying that I've started making a more concerted effort to watch (and rewatch) more of the world's great films. I was a movie viewer on a mission in November, and it was immensely rewarding, as I found time for:

  • Tokyo Story (Yasujirō Ozu, 1953)
  • Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
  • Good Morning (Yasujirō Ozu, 1959)
  • Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi, 1961)
  • Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961)
  • The Spirit of the Beehive (Víctor Erice, 1973)
  • Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

These are all Great Films™. About family and relationships. Life and death. First loves and fleeting love. Loneliness. Time and memory. Philosophy and religion. Youth and old age. And farting.

Others have penned brilliant reviews, essays and insights about these films, so I won't attempt to do that here. You can seek out their words, but it's all the better if you so do after seeing the films. I give them all the highest recommendation. And yes, as you might have guessed, none of them is in English. All of them are subtitled, in case you don't speak Japanese, Swedish, Italian, French, Spanish or Russian. Please don't let those subtitles be an obstacle. You'll get the hang of it after a few minutes — promise. The reward is well worth the effort by the viewer.

If you're looking for a way to dip your toe into films with subtitles, I would happily suggest Good Morning. That's the one with the farting. It's a 94-minute rare comedy from Ozu. Part of the plot involves two young brothers who go on "strike" until their family buys a television, but that's just one of the storylines of this sweet, accessible film. If you watch it and don't like it, I'll mail you a vintage postcard. How's that for a Papergreat guarantee? If flatulence jokes aren't your thing, though, the other starter film I'd recommend is the 93-minute Il Posto, a bittersweet tale of a young man's entry into the corporate workplace.

Some of the other films I watched in November require a bit more attention and patience, especially Stalker and Last Year at Marienbad. All of these films have superb writing, acting, directing and cinematography. They are works of art that will stay with you. And I hope they remain within our civilization for many more years.

* * *

I also watched a pair of notable documentaries in November: Orson Welles' F for Fake (1973) and Grey Gardens (1975), which had a quartet of directors led by Albert and David Maysles. Both are worthwhile and also problematic. F for Fake is unlike anything I've seen; it's been termed a docudrama, a film essay and a free-form documentary. Because there's really no way to label it. It's an Orson Welles creation, right down to its excesses and overindulgences. I would say the less you know about it going in, the better; but it does help to have some basic familiarity with Howard Hughes and Clifford Irving, as audiences in the 1970s would have.

Grey Gardens is considered an essential entry in the history of documentaries. But it's also hard not to cringe at the exploitative nature of the directors' constant push of the camera into the collapsed lives of high society recluses Big Edie and Little Edie in East Hampton, New York. If you watch the Criterion Blu-ray edition, be sure to stay through the credits to hear the recording of a surprising phone conversation.

I'm hoping to sit down for some more Great Films this month. Some will be first watches and others will be rewatches. And I know I'll be revisting some of these November movies, too. Because art in any form requires an investment of time and consideration by the viewer to bloom to its full potential.

< / End Pretentious Post >
< / Not Sorry >

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

Friday, November 29, 2019

Book cover: "A Forest by Night"


  • Title: A Forest by Night
  • Author: Fred J. Speakman (?-1982)
  • Cover and interior illustrator: John Augustus Avis (1931-2015)
  • Publisher: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., London
  • Publication date: 1965
  • Dust jacket price: 18 shillings, sixpence (or 1½ shillings under a pound, if I have my British money math right)
  • Pages: 196
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Dust jacket blurb: "Fred Speakman comes of country stock with a family history on his father's side of 900 years of farming. His father who knew and loved the country life, remained a countryman to the end. It is natural that when tragedy emptied his life, the author should turn to the countryside, the Epping Forest he had known since boyhood. Long interested in the problems of its wild life, he determined to do what probably nobody else would have the chance to do and spend his nights in the Forest for the round of a whole year, to watch animals — and to find a new basis for living. This book tells the story of the nights he spent, winter and summer, spring and autumn, alone under the trees. It is unique. The author writes of a world that few know. ... Today the author runs a Field Centre for Children at his home in the Forest. Well-known as a naturalist, lecturer, broadcaster and author, he gives to others the happiness he finds in himself."
  • Dedication: "In memory of my father who led my first childhood steps among the green trees, to my wife and children who bring me the happiness I know, and to all who love the quiet places."
  • Excerpt from foreword and acknowledgements: "This book is true. ... I turned to the Forest, in bitterness and with aching heart and a longing for confirmation of faith. I returned rich, healed, as the axe cut in the tree is healed."
  • First sentence: "The first day of the New Year, and what a stinging white-cold start it is to my year of freedom."
  • Last paragraph: "This book is history. Its lesson is bitter. Under complacent ignorance the larger wild creatures of the Forest are doomed. 'Laissez-faire' is not enough. It is not true that nothing can be done. The Forest cries for a new champion."
  • Random sentence from the middle: "In the hole appears a short rounded face of black and white, a badger cub venturing out alone."
  • Review of the book: "Campfire Kev" wrote this in 2009 on Path of the Paddle: "I read a fantastic book as a boy call 'A Forest By Night' by Fred J. Speakman and ever since have had a special affection for badgers. In the book which I thoroughly recommend, although it’s near impossible to get hold of now, the author, recently bereaved and injured during the second world war and unable to work spends a year in Epping Forest staying out at night and recording everything he sees, through each season — most of the activity focusses around the lives if the badgers he watches. It’s an inspiring read and one of the first books on what we would now know as ‘woodlore’ or bushcraft." There's some additional info about Speakman in this 2010 Path of the Paddle post.
  • Other books by Speakman: Tracks, Trails, and Signs; The Young Naturalist's Year; A Poacher's Tale; A Keeper's Tale; Out of the Wild; and Torty of Woodend.

But wait, there's more

Here's the map that appears on the last page of the book.
Click and magnify for more detail.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

(Missing) snapshot & memories: Thanksgiving

It was this year I realized that, in all those shoeboxes, I don't seem to have any family photographs of childhood Thanksgivings. Why would that be? Was everyone saving their film for Christmas? Was everyone too busy preparing food to take photographs? Certainly, the idea of photographing the food itself was not as widespread then as it is now.1 But it still seems odd that I can't easily find any 1970s or 1980s photos of my family on this holiday.

Words will have to suffice for these memories. Before I become any more of an unreliable narrator than I already am, I thought I'd jot some down.

When I was young, we had many of our Thanksgivings at the house on Oak Crest Lane in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.


While there were certainly other Thanksgivings at other locations, I seem to have the most recollection of the Oak Crest Lane experience in the late 1970s and the 1980s. And then my mom, sister and I moved into that house in 1986, so that was "home" for Thanksgiving from there forward.

Earlier than 1986, though, we had some amazing multigenerational holiday meals. I was talking with some co-workers this week and realized that I'm probably in the last generation that will have memories of sitting down to a meal with relatives who were born in the 19th century. Oak Crest Lane was originally the residence of my oft-mentioned great-grandparents, Howard Adams (1892-1985) and Greta Adams (1894-1988).2 Howard, who I called Pop-Pop, was one of the chiefs of the kitchen; he loved to cook.

Here's a look at Howard and Greta with their great-grandchildren, all of whom were born in the 1970s. These aren't Thanksgiving snapshots — we're wearing shorts! — but it's the closest I could find to something we might have taken at a Thanksgiving gathering, if anyone had picked up the camera!

From left: cousin Steve, sister Adriane, Pop-Pop, me, cousin Jeanette, Lamp.

From left: Lamp, cousin Jeanette, cousin Steve, Greta (Mimi), me, Lamp, sister Adriane

For some meals before 1985, we must have tried to cram 11 people around the table, as the group would have also included Mom, Dad, Uncle Charles and his wife, and my grandmother, Helen Ingham (1919-2003). Uncle Charles took over sitting at the head of the table after Pop-Pop died, and I had some turns there starting in the 1990s.

My family probably didn't make a "day trip" to Wallingford for Thanksgiving when we were living in Montoursville; that would have been a bit of a round-trip haul. So we probably stayed overnight. But we certainly could have come over for the day when we were living in Clayton, southern New Jersey, in the late 1970s. It was just a zip across the Commodore Barry Bridge. Either way, when we arrived at Oak Crest Lane, we perhaps looked something like this coming in the door. (This photo is from a February visit, but the idea is the same.)

From left: Lamp, me, Mom, Dad, Adriane.

So what was Thanksgiving Day actually like? It varied over the years, and my mind is a mish-mash of the 1970s through 2000s. I don't recall a lot of TV when I was younger; maybe just the Macy's parade in the background and/or falling asleep to college football after we ate. There were little snacks as appetizers: cheese, crackers, olives. (In later years, shrimp cocktail become a traditional appetizer.)

People had to spread out a little, because the big house had a small kitchen. So couldn't cram too many folks in there while the cook was tending to the turkey and the side dishes. Here's a 1990s Christmas photo that gives you some sense of the tight quarters.

From left: Adriane, liquor, Mom, me with newspaper, cousin Steve.

As for the food at Oak Crest Lane, our Thanksgivings meals were very traditional when I was a kid. The menu rarely varied from this:

  • Roast turkey
  • Gravy
  • Stuffing3
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Succotash4
  • Fresh rolls
  • Cranberry sauce from a can
  • Pumpkin pie

We were right-fine pilgrim cosplayers, I reckon. The big moment, of course, was the turkey coming through the squeaky swinging door and being placed on the table. I liked the white meat and lots of skin. Mom went for the wings. Older relatives often preferred the dark meat.

Other memories: The rolls came in a large wooden scoop, covered in a cloth napkin; they were always amazing. ... Dress was usually semi-formal, with button-up shirts and slacks. ... Thanksgiving dinner was always the big test determining whether you got a passing or failing grade on table manners for the year. ... Cranberry sauce from a can is the greatest, and I will hear no arguments to the contrary. ... I was often the only one at the table drinking milk, and lots of it; those days are gone with the wind, given my dairy intolerance. ... A key was to eat the succotash first, and be done with it. ... As the years passed, post-dinner cleanup became my primary role. I had a good system for it. ... We'd often take the turkey grease and dump it in a back corner of the yard, near the wood pile. ... Hours later came a meal almost as great as Thanksgiving dinner: cold turkey leftovers on white bread with mayo.

I have better photos of the dining room where we ate Thanksgiving dinner at Oak Crest Lane, but here's one I really like from circa 1959.

From left: Pop-Pop, Uncle Charles, Mimi, Mom.

Thanksgiving dinner evolved over the years, of course. People pass on. Grow up. Go away to college. Get married. Have kids. Get divorced. Get remarried. And so the configurations around the table changed. And the menu definitely changed, too, as the 1990s went one. There was more enthusiasm for mixing up the offerings. Succotash was replaced with asparagus, perhaps. Different forms of potato. Shrimp, as I mentioned, and oysters becoming a bigger part of some holidays. Even — gasp — an occasional year without Tom Turkey.5 Adriane's then-husband, Jason, was an extraordinary chef who added a lot of flavor and variety to our Oak Crest Lane meals in the first decade of the 21st century.

One of our last big family Thanksgivings at Oak Crest Lane was circa 2009, when Mom was the only one living there. But we got eight people around the table thanks to the addition of me, Joan, Ashar, Joan's mom (also Joan), Adriane, Jason and Jacob. The meal was nothing like the pilgrim-replica Thanksgivings of yore in Wallingford. After gorging on appetizers, we had beef, lobster, some sort of fancy potatoes, probably green beans and other fixins. If there are snapshots of that one, Joan or Adriane must have them somewhere.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Footnotes
1. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, there's a Wikipedia page for this. It's titled, wonderfully, "Camera eats first" and it's described as "the behavior and global phenomenon of people taking photos of their meals with digital or smartphone cameras before they eat, mostly followed by uploading the photos to the social media." The article also ends with these grim conclusions: "It may disrupt other people dining and spoil the enjoyment of their meal. They may also leave their partners in a state of hunger and impatience. ... (And), while people are busy photographing their food and sharing it online, they will have less time to communicate with their friends and family."
2. I realized while writing this that I got Howard Horsey “Ted” Adams' years of birth and death wrong in several previous posts, due to carelessness on my part, probably exacerbated by later "cut and pasting" of the original mistake. So now I'm kind of very stressed out. He has born in 1892 and died in 1985. I have to go back and fix multiple Papergreat posts. AND, before I forget, I have to go into the Papergreat bound volumes and correct those entries with margin notes.
3. It's possible some of my older relatives called it "filling." I wasn't an observant ethnographer back then, so I can't recall.
4. Full disclosure: It was the most bland succotash possible. Just corn and lima beans, with no zest or spices. It was pretty awful.
5. For me, all red meat and poultry came off the menu in 2013, to the chagrin of some of the meat-eaters around me.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Mystery RPPC: Feeding chickens (Chapter 2)


As a nice bookend to January's "Mystery RPPC: Feeding chickens" post, here are some more Chickens of Long Ago being fed. This time it's five folks feeding some healthy-sized poultry on what appears to be a pleasant day. Nothing is written on the back of this postcard. Based on the AZO stamp box, it was produced between 1910 and 1930.

How long have we been feeding chickens in our villages and yards? Here's an excerpt from a 2012 Smithsonian article:
"The domesticated chicken has a genealogy as complicated as the Tudors, stretching back 7,000 to 10,000 years and involving, according to recent research, at least two wild progenitors and possibly more than one event of initial domestication. The earliest fossil bones identified as possibly belonging to chickens appear in sites from northeastern China dating to around 5400 B.C., but the birds’ wild ancestors never lived in those cold, dry plains. So if they really are chicken bones, they must have come from somewhere else, most likely Southeast Asia. ...

"Once chickens were domesticated, cultural contacts, trade, migration and territorial conquest resulted in their introduction, and reintroduction, to different regions around the world over several thousand years. Although inconclusive, evidence suggests that ground zero for the bird’s westward spread may have been the Indus Valley, where the city-states of the Harappan civilization carried on a lively trade with the Middle East more than 4,000 years ago."
Historian Andrew Lawler has written a book titled Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization, and in a 2014 interview with National Geographic, he made the point that, up until very recent times, it made good sense to have chickens near the house — or even in the house:
"I think one of the most important things that chickens can do for us urban folk is to remind us where our food comes from. In earlier times chickens ate the scraps that the housewife threw out the door after dinner. The chickens took care of insects. In West Africa, they were important for exterminating pests. So chickens were welcome around the house, unlike, say, pigs and cows, which traditionally were kept farther away from dwellings. When archaeologists study ancient sites in the Middle East, they find chicken bones right in the living area. That's because the chicken does a lot of things for us. It cleans things up, gets rid of bugs, and provides us with those eggs we like to have for breakfast."
Today, most of us are far, far removed from ever interacting with chickens. Or understanding where the chicken or eggs on our plate comes from. And that makes it easier for too many of us to be numb to the horrific reality of how most chickens are raised around the world. Unlike the chickens on this postcard, most never see the light of day once during their lives.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Semi-mystery postcard: 1910 fair at National


This real photo postcard, featuring two boys in a field with suspenders and hats, is undated and was never mailed. There's not even a stamp box to help provide a span of years during which it was produced. But we do have some useful writing on the back.

On the left-hand side, there's this:
Hello Erwin
Remember the fair
1910 at National
Underneath that, perhaps in a different hand, is a badly mangled word, presumably a name:


The card's addressee is Erwin Backhaus. That's a last name we came across yesterday, and this postcard is definitely from the same batch. So that makes me wonder whether the name above is Lorenz, given that yesterday's card featured a name that looked like Loreng.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Mostly mystery and very dark real photo postcard


This old and creased real photo postcard was written out and stamped (with a U.S. #300 1902-03 1¢ Ben Franklin stamp), but it doesn't appear to have been mailed — there's no postmark. So it apparently wasn't good enough to mail (even after being stamped), but it was good enough to keep in a drawer for 100 years.

The message on the back is written in a child's cursive writing. It states:
Dear Cousin,
Do you know them on the other side. Loreng [?] looks like he is sleeping.
from your cousin
Beatrice
The postcard was addressed to Adeline Backhaus of Manly, Iowa, in care of Herman Backhaus. I don't know if this is the same Adeline Backhaus, but here's a delightful photograph I came across on Getty Images.

Embed from Getty Images

Three Bitter Bingo Losers, 1946
Miss Adeline Backhaus, Mrs. W.H. Lorber and Mrs. Frances Rufkahr all look on in disappointment and disgust at the winner of the St. Charles, Missouri country fair bingo game. 1946.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Semi-mystery postcard:
Bertha, Della and Earl?


Long before Papergreat came around, an earlier someone tried to solve the mystery of this AZO real photo postcard. Based on the stamp box, the card dates to between 1904 and 1918, and it feature three well-dressed young people sitting on a porch. A rug has been placed beneath them, presumably so that they don't get their best clothes dirty.

On the back, this was written in cursive long ago: "Have no idea who they are."

Then, written at the top is the name Alvin. And underneath the "have no idea" statement, someone else wrote three names very neatly:

Bertha Della Earl

So I reckon we can assume that's who these three folks are. A last name, a town name and/or a year would have been even nicer. But that's the only lead we've been given for these three.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

1938 newspaper recipe for
peach-mint jelly


This hails from the May 18, 1938, edition of The Honolulu Advertiser and might just be something you want to seriously consider, for a change.